IT is perplexing that after all the scrambling to cope with the relentless human rights criticism of the Philippines from abroad, the DFA and Palace messaging still have not stumbled on the most cogent ripostes to human-rights propaganda. I have in mind the following:
1. The late British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s critique of the human rights obsession, which stands human rights on its head and against its pretensions.
2. The doctrine of “sovereign immunity” which pulls the rug from under the International Criminal Court (ICC). It’s written in the constitution of states that the state cannot be sued in another state.
3. The United States’ refusal to submit to international consensus, its contemptuous brush-off of most forms of international cooperation, and its contention that the Geneva convention on torture does not apply to its war on terrorism.
4. Columnist Charles Krauthammer’s dismissal of the UN Human Rights Council as an “Orwellian UN body” and of UN rights declarations as “vacuous.”
The moment these arguments are brought into the picture, I suspect that the human-rights talking heads will run out of words. I doubt very much whether Dr. Agnes Callamard will come back. The Liberal and yellow cult will be hard put to respond. People will be increasingly embarrassed to mention the Hail Mary case before the ICC.
Thatcher on human rights
In her book on power in the age of globalism, Statecraft (HarperCollins, London, New York, 2002), Thatcher entitled one chapter: “Human rights and wrongs.” The title indicates the doubt and skepticism with which she viewed the exertions of the human rights brigade and the ideology of what one French diplomat called “human-rightism.”
Thatcher declared that the contemporary obsession with human rights had made her uneasy; HR no longer mean what they used to do and are being “used to diminish not expand liberty.”
It was only in the mid-20th century that international conventions on human rights began to appear.
The key clauses of the UN charter rousingly declared “faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person,” but the key clauses of the charter describe a system which assumes that sovereign states, not any international body, exercise power within their borders, in which the legitimate scope for interventions is extremely limited, and in which real control is exercised by a few great powers. This combination of far-reaching statements of principle and very limited means of giving effect to them is characteristic of international human rights discourse, says Thatcher.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) lists a series of admirable goals; in fact, it displays a catch-all approach, in which numerous worthy aims are declared as “rights,” without recognition that their fulfillment depends upon circumstances, and above all upon the willingness of one group of people to accept burdens on behalf of another.
The same is the case with the other UN declarations on human rights, which have followed in the wake of the original declaration. These have addressed respectively, the political rights of women (1952); racial discrimination (1965); economic, social and cultural rights (1966); civil and political rights (1966); discrimination against women (1979); torture (1984); and the rights of the child (1989).
Thatcher contends that those who ratified these agreements on behalf of their states did not imagine that they were detracting from national sovereignty. At best, they regarded the conventions more as aspirations than as prescriptions—otherwise they wouldn’t have allowed so many ambiguities and contradictions into the conventions.
Thatcher’s crucial point is this: “These human rights conventions came out of, and were assumed to apply within, an international order based upon sovereign states, whose own governments had the ultimate responsibility to give them effect. Limits upon the powers of government, checks on abuses, legal rights, and safeguards can never be effective if they are not grounded upon and in conformity with national circumstances, institutions and habits.”
As a result of the obsession with human rights, the doctrine of sovereignty and sovereign immunity came under pervasive attack, especially by those who do not expect to serve their country in high office or to do their country’s bidding in crises.
The rationale of sovereign immunity is not that it protects statesmen who have committed serious crimes, but rather that it protects those who authorize or carry out controversial acts from facing politically motivated charges in the courts of unfriendly foreign states.
The effect of removing or attenuating such immunity will be to make leaders reluctant to take tough decisions, particularly those that involve arousing the ire of the organized international Left.
Sovereign immunity is the reason why it says in our Constitution, that the Philippine government cannot be sued in the court of another state.
Thatcher worried that the world had passed into a new era in which the whole basis by which nation states traditionally conducted their affairs was being overturned.
International Criminal Court
Thatcher viewed the proposal for the International Criminal Court (ICC) in that light and staunchly opposed its creation. She believed that Kofi Annan ‘s vision for the court was more likely to turn into a nightmare.
She cited four reasons for her opposition:
1. The court will in practice more likely bring action against the soldiers or statesmen of the generally law-abiding states, rather than those of the rogue states, because the rogue states will simply ignore its jurisdiction.
2. A global judicial institution of the kind proposed would require a global police force and a global government in order to ensure that its decisions were actually carried out.
3. The court can only lead to trouble because to whatever extent it is effective, it will render the West’s capacity to intervene less effective.
4. The court is only the latest and most powerful expression of a trend towards the internationalization of justice that will itself lead to injustice.
It will only produce a towering edifice of words, which will be treated as a marker of customary international law.
Orwellian UN body
I turn lastly to the comment of Charles Krauthammer on the work of the UN Human Rights Council. The Washington Post columnist and author called the council an “Orwellian UN body” in his book, Things That Matter (Crown Forum, New York, 2013).
“Orwellian” means it is like the society described by George Orwell in his novel Nineteen Eighty-four, which exercises total control over the public and the private activities of citizens. This may help to place in perspective the work of Dr. Agnes Callamard and her recent visit to Manila.
Behind the umbrella of “human rights” in the UN, the human rights brigade is zealous in propagating its agenda and philosophy. This is why soldiers like Dr. Callamard travel the world to hound leaders like our own President Duterte.